The Soprano State The Soprano State
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  • For those who know Jim McGreevey and his love for the political fray, and for those who know that in New Jersey politics, resurrection is always possible, McGreevey’s return to the political scene is no surprise. The surprise is how long it took.

    McGreevey, 66, is positioning himself to run for Jersey City mayor in 2025, 21 years after he resigned as governor.

    The question now as the once personable former governor begins to campaign anew, is whether voters in 2025 will know or care about what was at the heart of McGreevey’s departure from the statehouse two decades ago. It will likely be remembered that he declared himself a gay American and admitted to having an affair with a gubernatorial aide. But what really mattered was that right after 9/11, McGreevey hired that unqualified aide as his top security advisor. You can find it all in The Soprano State, where McGreevey is present from Chapter 1, all the way through to Chapter 10.

    In a video kicking off his campaign, McGreevey is asking voters for a “second chance” with a campaign focused on making Jersey City, the state’s second largest city, affordable.

    Since departing the governorship, McGreevey graduated from a New York seminary and now runs the New Jersey Reentry Corp., which provides services for ex-cons.

    Since leaving the statehouse, he has not left controversy behind. Hired by Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop in 2013 to run the Jersey City Employment and Training Program, McGreevey was fired six years later when Fulop accused him of fiscal mismanagement. McGreevey says Fulop did not prove the claim and said audits found no wrongdoing. Mark Koosau, Jersey Journal, Oct. 31, 2023

  • The expensive snacking of New Jersey governors is always making headlines in New Jersey.

    After Politico New Jersey reported that Gov. Murphy spent $11,800 on snacks and beverages at MetLife Stadium in 2018 and 2019 at events including a Taylor Swift concert and the Hot 97 Jam music festival, the governor is trying to make nice with taxpayers by asking the Democratic State Committee to cover the expense.

    New Jersey governors are given a $95,000 a year expense account that can be used for receptions and the like.

    Former Gov. Christie made his own headlines after spending more than $82,000 of his expense account on snacks and beverages in 2010 and 2011 at Giants and Jets games at MetLife Stadium. As is likely to happen with Murphy and his state committee, the Republican state committee stepped in to cover the charges. Derek Hall and Brent Johnson,, Oct. 31, 2023

  • With this headline, Britain’s largest serious newspaper, The Sunday Times, showed just how tuned in the world is to New Jersey’s Soprano State corruption: “Bob Menendez, the senator in the Sopranos state, in firing line over ‘gold bar bribes.’”

    New Jersey U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez is charged with doing favors for three New Jersey businessmen and the Egyptian government in exchange for the traditional New Jersey bribes of cash, a Mercedes, a no-show job for his future wife and for the headline-grabbing bribe of gold bars.

    In his usual style, Menendez is refusing to step down from his Senate seat and is adamantly claiming his innocence.

    You can find a long history of Menendez and allegations of corruption in The Soprano State (Chapters 3, 8 and 9) and in our Updates. Chapter 3 has seven pages on another federal probe of the senator that went nowhere.

    Investigators searching the Menendez home found nearly a half million dollars in cash hidden in the lining of a jacket with the senator’s name on it, in other clothing, closets and a safe. And the $100,000 in gold bars.

    Menendez’s wife, Nadine Menendez was indicted with her husband and charged with being a go-between between her husband and the businessmen charged with bribing the senator.

    Adding to the Soprano State plot are news reports about how Nadine Menendez was desperate for the $60,000 Mercedes convertible cited as a bribe in the indictment because she had damaged her car when it fatally struck a pedestrian.

    The senator is accused of using his power to try to influence two criminal investigations, of using his position to provide sensitive government information to Egypt, of using his power to influence arms sales to Egypt, and of trying to use his influence with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to squash questions about an inexperienced company that cornered the market on certified halal meat imported to Egypt.

    Six years ago, Menendez escaped charges that he took bribes from a Florida doctor in exchange for luxury gifts. He went free because a hung jury couldn’t come to a decision and the feds did not seek a new trial. The Senate Ethics Committee did severely admonish him for using his position to assist the business dealings of Dr. Salomon Melgen while accepting the luxury gifts from the doctor. Afterwards, the senator resumed business as usual.

    While Menendez’ bravado may seem unreasonable in light of the headline-grabbing details of the current case against him, it should be remembered that the U.S. Supreme Court has damaged federal prosecutors’ ability to crack down on corruption. Always in the background of such prosecutions is the 2016 decision by the high court to throw out the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell who accepted gifts from a businessman whose interest McDonnell promoted.

    U.S. Attorney Damian Williams, Sept. 22, 2023; Alistair Dawber, The Sunday Times, Sept. 30, 2023; Nicholas Fandos, Benjamin Weiser, Tracey Tully and William K. Rashbaum, The New York Times, Sept. 23, 2023; Jonathan D. Salant,, Dec. 10, 2022

  • As if gutting the state’s campaign finance watchdog (the Election Law Enforcement Commission) isn’t enough for one year, New Jersey pols are turning their sights on the state’s Open Public Records Act.

    Bills introduced by Democratic Assemblyman Joe Danielsen would dramatically reduce the public’s right to know about their government.

    The bills would allow records custodians to deny a records request if it requires research, and there would be no ability to appeal.

    The bills would end a citizen’s right to appeal a record denial to Superior Court, limiting appeals to the Government Records Council, which has a backlog of two years. Equally damaging, the bills would allow the governor, Assembly Speaker and Senate President to appoint members to the council without Senate confirmation.

    The bills would gut the ability of those who win appeals to recover legal costs from the government entity wrongfully denying the records.

    The bills would limit how often a request can be filed and would limit public contracts, permit and registration information from disclosure.

    Harry Pozycki, founder of The Citizens Campaign that worked 20 years ago for the passage of the state’s Open Public Records Act, said the proposed bills would take a wrecking ball to the law. In a Special to the USA TODAY Network, he said, “The changes proposed would make it easier for New Jersey government officials at all levels to delay and block access to government records that citizens need to make decisions about government policies.”

    Harry Pozycki, USA TODAY, Aug. 7, 2023; Star-Ledger Editorial Board, July 3, 2023; Sammy Gibbons and Katie Sobko,, June 20, 2023

  • Nine weeks after the state budget became law, taxpayers are finally learning how many “Christmas Tree” items, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, were added to the state budget by lawmakers looking to fund pet projects in their districts, reported.

    The hundreds of spending requests, labeled resolutions, are made by lawmakers at the end of the budget process, and are kept secret for weeks. The $54.3 billion budget raised spending by 15 percent.

    Republican Assemblywoman Aura Dunn has called for an end to the undisclosed spending. “Perhaps having access to those resolutions before we voted on the budget would have helped answer crucial questions like who, what, where, when and why,” she wrote in a Star-Ledger op-ed piece.

    Democrats control both the New Jersey Assembly and Senate, and much of the “Christmas Tree” money went to districts represented by Democrats and their leaders. More than $150 million went to counties represented by Senate President Nick Scutari (35 resolutions for $100 million), Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and state Sen. Joe Vitale ($25 million), Senate Budget Chair Paul Sarlo (16 resolutions for $50 million).

    All 120 seats in the state Legislature are up for grabs in November raising some hope with Republicans that they can capture of at least one of the chambers.

    Derek Hall, NJ Advance Media, Sept. 3, 2023; Aura Dunn, Star-Ledger, Aug. 30, 2023

  • New Jersey government is a lawbreaker when it comes to laws the Legislature has passed (and the governor has signed) mandating public reporting, the watchdog nonprofit news site, the New Jersey Monitor, reported.

    In January 2020, Gov. Murphy signed a law requiring police to report on property seized during criminal investigations. There has been no reporting, the Monitor reported

    “We make a law, and our own government fails to follow it. What kind of example is that,” Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, bill sponsor, told the Monitor. “What kind of message does that send to the public that the government itself is ignoring transparency laws and disclosure laws.”

    In April 2021, Murphy signed a law that requires the Attorney General to post data on sexual assault cases reported to law enforcement. None of the data has been posted on the Attorney General’s website, and a public records request by the Monitor produced no results, the news site reported.

    In January 2022, Murphy signed a law, effective July 2022, that required reporting on the state’s educational workforce, including teacher vacancies. No such report has been written, the Monitor reported.

    In addition, the state is required to report on childhood lead exposure, and the reporting is two years behind.

    The Star-Ledger editorial board, citing the New Jersey Monitor investigation, said, “The assault on transparency has been relentless since Gov. Murphy’s second term began – just count the ways.

    Sen Holly Schepisi, author of the sexual assault disclosure law, told the Star-Ledger editorial board, “There is no transparency – zero…even the pro-transparency bills that were unanimously passed are not implemented by state agencies. And the worse thing is that when people try to OPRA the information, they’re told no such documents exist, or that it’s beyond purview of what OPRA requires.”

    New Jersey Monitor, Dana DiFilippo, July 28, 2023; Star-Ledger Editorial Board, Aug. 7, 2023

  • Even in the Soprano State, candidates running for office can’t accept a paper bag full of cash in return for promises of future favors.

    The state Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, sent a clear message to candidates looking to accept cash under the table: “Ordinary people can understand that New Jersey’s bribery statute does not allow them (candidates) to accept a bag of cash in exchange for promising a future appointment to a city post.”

    The ruling finally clears the way for Jason O’Donnell, a candidate for Bayonne mayor, to go to trial on charges that he accepted a $10,000 bribe from a tax attorney working undercover with state investigators. According to the state, O’Donnell promised if he were elected, the tax attorney would have a job with the city. (The paper bag of cash was delivered to O’Donnell’s campaign headquarters.)

    The case has been pending for four years, as O’Donnell won a favorable ruling from Hudson County Superior Court Judge Mitzy Galis-Menendez before the appeal process began.

    Defense attorneys were encouraged by a former ruling in federal court when federal charges were thrown out against Lou Manzo because he was a candidate for Jersey City mayor, not an elected official. The NJ high court decided the same loophole did not apply to state law.

    Ted Sherman,, Aug. 7, 2023

  • Acting state comptroller Kevin Walsh said New Jersey is turning a blind eye to more than 1,500 nursing home residents receiving poor care in Medicaid-funded nursing homes, at a taxpayer cost of $102 million a year for the poor service.

    The comptroller issued the same report a year ago with recommendations to the NJ Department of Human Services, with little improvement, posing potentially fatal consequences for nursing home residents, the recent Walsh report stated.

    At 12 nursing homes with the lowest possible ratings, inspectors found widespread harmful conditions, some decades old, despite repeated recommendations by the comptroller’s office for the state to do better.

    “In some, residents face conditions that include abusive staff members, clogged toilets, broken doors and furniture, poorly maintained and dirty facilities and patient rooms, under-staffed shifts and untrained staff administering medications,” the report said.

    The state has failed to use its ability to withhold Medicaid funding to encourage high-quality care, the report charged.

    The comptroller recommended capping admissions at poorly performing nursing homes and barring their owners from operating new ones.

    Andrew Aronson, CEO of the Health Care Association of New Jersey, representing the state’s nursing homes, labeled the comptroller’s report “terribly misleading.”

    The executive summary of the comptroller’s report notes that the Office of the State Comptroller is an independent agency which audits state programs and is charged with making sure the state spends its Medicaid money in a responsible way.

    New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller, March 31, 2023; Susan K. Livio and Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, March 31, 2023

  • In the wake of years of reports of corruption in the Paterson police department and after the fatal shooting of a community activist, state Attorney General Matthew Platkin swept in and claimed control over the department. The state takeover came in the wake of appeals to the feds to step in.

    Paterson City Hall officials quickly asked for $5 million to help with the cost of the state takeover. The Paterson Press reported it is a “made-up number” and “not based on any accounting of needs and costs.”

    In the most recent police shooting, Najee Seabrooks was fatally shot as he moved toward police with knives. In February, a Paterson officer was charged with aggravated assault after a shooting that left the victim paralyzed. In 2021, a police officer shot and killed a man in an incident that raised questions by activists about whether the man was armed.

    Over the past four years, a dozen Paterson cops have been criminally charged with misconduct. Taxpayers have shelled out $2 million to settle 16 civil rights lawsuits filed against police. And six cops, labeled the “robbery squad,” were convicted in a federal probe charging the officers with illegally stopping and searching residents, stealing cash and falsifying reports.

    Deion Johnson, NJ Advance Media, Nov. 29, 2022; Tracey Tully, The New York Times, March 27, 2023; Joe Malinconico, Paterson Press, March 27 and April 23, 2023

  • Showing the traditional Soprano State exchange of cash for political clout is alive and well, a Middlesex County Grand Jury indicted former Sayreville Democratic Party chairman Thomas V. Pollando on a charge of bribery, and his son David Pollando, on witness tampering.

    Detectives, using electronic surveillance at a Sayreville business, watched Thomas Pollano accept several thousand dollars in cash in exchange for using his political clout to influence an ongoing criminal case, according to the indictment.

    David Pollando is charged with threatening a witness after his wife Lizmarie, who also was charged, alerted him to the location of the witness.

    In the wake of the indictment, Thomas Pollando resigned all his government posts: chair of the Sayreville Democratic Party, vice chair of the Middlesex County Planning Board, member of the Sayreville Economic and Redevelopment Authority and contract administrator for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.

    Middlesex County Prosecutor Yolanda Ciccone, March 30, 2023; Susan Loyer and Suzanne Russell,, March 30, 2023; Nicolas Fernandes, NJ Advance Media, March. 31, 2023

  • When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled New Jersey could withdraw from the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, Gov. Murphy said he was thrilled to see his state kill the commission, a mob-busting agency. He said his administration used every tool at its disposal to end the 1953 agreement with New York, an agreement to tackle the mob’s influence over the harbors.

    In contrast, New York’s Gov. Kathy Hochul and Attorney General Letitia James expressed disappointment that the agreement to fight corruption at the ports (memorialized by the classic Marlon Brando movie “On the Waterfront”) had been severed. New York said for decades, the agency has been “protecting essential industries at the port and cracking down on organized crime.”

    In the face of statements by the FBI, the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York that the Waterfront Commission was still vital to crime busting, New Jersey contends the mob’s influence had waned and the agency hurt waterfront business.

    The International Longshoremen’s Association joined Murphy in praising the end of the commission. (It is worth noting as recently as 2021, FBI agents said work with the commission revealed continued influence by Genovese and Gambino organized crime families over the Longshoremen. And reported the ILA’s Committee on Political Education donated $100,000 in 2022 to a nonprofit tied to Murphy.)

    ILA president Harold Daggett said he welcomed the plan to have state police take over the duties of the commission. He labeled the commission a “rogue agency, which was working to hurt the New Jersey economy.”

    Mob busting had nothing to do with the high court’s decision ending the commission. Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote New Jersey simply had the legal write to end its agreement with New York, which fought the legal battle to keep the agency alive.

    Colleen Wilson,, April 18, 2023; Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, April 18, 2023; Ry Rivard, Politico, April 18, 2023

  • Gov. Murphy, with a stroke of a pen, gutted the state’s campaign finance watchdog under the guise of a law labeled the Elections Transparency Act.

    All three of the Election Law Enforcement Commission’s sitting commissioners resigned in protest of a provision in the new law giving the governor, without Senate consent, the right to appoint ELEC commissioners, who then select the executive director.

    The law wipes out 80 percent of ongoing investigations by lowering the statute of limitations for ELEC investigations from 10 to two years. The law allows state and county political parties to create housekeeping funds with twice the contribution limits, doubles the contributions politicians can take, wipes away local pay-to-play laws in favor of a flawed state law and in some cases triples the amount raised by political parties.

    The one provision drawing praise from good-government groups is the requirement that independent expenditure groups disclose major donors.

    Just after the bill was signed, reported the chief sponsor of the new law, Sen. President Nicholas Scutari, failed to disclose details of nearly $600,000 in campaign spending, as required by state law.

    Reporter Ashley Balcerzak found in nearly 1,000 entries, Scutari recorded campaign expenses as reimbursements to himself or staff, listing himself as the vendor for baseball fundraisers, a conference in Rome, two trips to Portugal and one to Puerto Rico.

    Pointing to the gaps in Scutari’s campaign disclosures, the USA TODAY Network NJ Editorial Board, wrote: “A defanged ELEC in a state in which political corruption reaches back in episode after episode across the decades does no good to uphold the public trust.”

    Ashley Balcerzak,, March 30, 2023; Katie Sobko,, March 30, 2023; Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media, April 11, 2023; Brent Johnson, NJ Advance Media, April 13, 2023; Ashley Balcerzak,, April 18, 2023; USA TODAY Network New Jersey Editorial Board, April 20, 2023

  • Proving the state’s right hand doesn’t know what its left hand is doing, especially within the state Department of Environmental Protection, Associated Press reported DEP issued a notice of violation to its own Division of Fish and Wildlife for damaging habitat for the threatened barred owl and the endangered red-shouldered hawk.

    Four conservation groups complained wetland soil and flora were destroyed and mature oak and pine forests were clear-cut logged at the Glassboro Wildlife Management Area. The Division of Fish and Wildlife created a meadow for the American woodcock, while destroying the habitat for the threatened and endangered birds.

    Tom Gilbert, of the NJ Conservation Foundation, told AP that DEP needs to take steps to “improve their clearly inadequate internal review process.”

    Wayne Parry, Associated Press, April 14, 2023

  • Gov. Murphy’s support for gutting two corruption-busting agencies could come back to haunt him should he make a bid for higher public office.

    While Murphy’s state lawyers went before the U.S. Supreme Court to try to end New Jersey’s participation in, and thereby kill, the mob-busting Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, reported a $100,000 donation in 2022 from the International Longshoremen’s Association to a dark money nonprofit tied to the governor. The Longshoremen also gave $40,000 in 2021 to a nonprofit that funded Murphy’s inauguration, reported.

    As recently as 2021, FBI agents said their work with the Waterfront Commission revealed influence by Genovese and Gambino organized crime families over the Longshoremen and waterfront businesses. High-ranking Longshoremen and Genovese family members have in the past been convicted of conspiring to collect tribute payments from port workers.

    (To read about former Gov. Jim McGreevey’s problems with the ILA and a Genovese capo check out The Soprano State’s Chapter 8, The Gospel According to the Mob.)

    Despite statements by the FBI, the U.S. department of Labor, and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York that the Waterfront Commission is vital to crime-busting, New Jersey Democrats and Republicans contend the mob’s influence has waned and the Waterfront Commission hurts waterfront business.

    Murphy went so far as to name Joseph Sanzari, an honorary card-caring member of the Longshoremen, as New Jersey’s representative to the commission. But he didn’t last long.

    During arguments before the high court, there was no talk of mob-busting. New Jersey argued it has a legal right to break away for the agency charged with keeping corrupt practices out of the ports. New York argued that New Jersey’s agreement 70 years ago is binding. The justices appeared to side with New Jersey, leaning on contract law, which allows one party to end a contract if there is no specific wording on how it should be severed. A ruling is expected in June.

    This was Murphy’s second recent attack on a crime-busting agency. He supported a bill that would gut the Election Law Enforcement Commission, New Jersey’s election watchdog.

    The bill, tabled after outcry from the press and good government advocates, would have made ELEC’s executive director a direct appointee of the governor and would have reduced the statute of limitations on election law violations from 10 to two years. The bill also would have nixed the state’s pay-to-play laws, doubled contributions politicians could take, and in some cases tripled the amount raised by political parties.

    Ry Rivard, Politico, March 1, 2023, Nov. 22, 2021; Colleen Wilson,, March 1, 2023; Ashley Balcerzak, March 1, 2023, Feb. 27, 2023; Matt Friedman and Daniel Han, Politico, Feb. 27, 2023; Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, Dec. 19 and April 5, 2021

  • Democratic lawmakers boosted their reputation for trying to sweep Soprano State corruption under the rug with their move to gut the Election Law Enforcement Commission, an election watchdog since 1973.

    Credit goes to the press and good government advocates for temporarily foiling the outrageous move.

    The attempt is right up there with Democrats’ efforts to get out of the 70-year-old mob-busting Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor. Both moves were supported by Gov. Murphy.

    The proposed election law, wrongfully called the Election Transparency Act, was bad enough until amendments were added at the last minute, prompting Assemblyman Brian Bergen, a Republican from Morris County, to label the bill the Public Corruption Authorization Act.

    The bill would gut the agency’s independence by making its executive director a direct appointee of the governor. Currently the executive director is chosen by the ELEC commission, a board with equal number of Democrats and Republicans appointed by the governor.

    The bill would reduce the statute of limitations on election law violations from 10 to two years, thereby killing pending charges against Democrats for failing to report nearly a million dollars in donations and a million in expenses, according to the Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran. Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, sponsor of the bill, told Moran the million-dollar violations were “weak tea, to put it politely.” (See more of Greenwald in Chapters 3 and 4 of The Soprano State.)

    The pending bill would allow state and county political parties to create housekeeping funds with twice the contribution limits, would nix the state’s pay to play laws and double the contributions politicians can take, and in some cases triple the amount raised by political parties.

    Published reports indicate the push to gut ELEC started in the governor’s office as retaliation against an email sent buy ELEC executive director Jeffrey Brindle, who questioned the celebration of National Coming Out Day.

    As Charles Stile of said, a “cringe-inducting email, for sure.” But no excuse for opening the door to election corruption.

    Matt Friedman and Daniel Han, Politico, Feb. 27, 2023; Tom Moran, The Star-Ledger, Feb. 26, 2023; Charles Stile,, Feb. 27, 2023; Ashley Balcerzak,, Feb. 27, 2023